If anything, internet openness is showing what women have to put up with


1:59 pm - August 5th 2013

by Robert Sharp    


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This post by sexologist Jill McDeviitt is quite astonishing. It chronicles her rage at being sent an entirely inappropriate e-mail by a man she had never met, and his subsequent approach to her parents when she threatened to publish the e-mail on her blog.

It is yet another story of how men send women inappropriate, disgusting and/or downright illegal messages over the Internet – an issue that we have been discussing all week.

What I found particularly revelatory is when she describes how her parents behaved, when the man (he was the husband of someone who worked with Jill’s step-mother) contacted them:

I’m left to marvel not just at your individual misogyny, but also the infantilizing sexism that exists in the back corners and in the cobwebs of the brains of everyone involved.

Receiving a repugnant email from you, a strange man, is bad enough. But what makes this case so compelling is how you were able to entangle my normally feminist and self-aware family, illuminating just how deep tolerance of predatory men goes in our society.

I suspect many women, and people from ethnic minorities, already know what it is like to be denied the benefit of the doubt in this manner.

But as a white, middle-class male, such experiences are alien to me. In fact, it is literally unimaginable: I cannot really conceive of how such a situation could possibly arise for me. Its fascinating to have an insight into the unfairness that some women are subjected to, and to understand their indignation at having to put up with it.

And the reason that such behaviour continues in this enlightened age is precisely that people like me find it difficult, or even impossible, to imagine. The mental chain of events that took place in McDevitt’s anecdote are not unique. It was a similar combination of disbelief and sexist assumptions that allowed Jimmy Saville and Stuart Hall to perpetrate their abuse. We need more stories like Jill’s, to cure ourselves of our incredulity.

In the debate about sexism and Tweeted rape threats, there is a certain strain of thought that says that the technology is too open and needs to be censored. But the only reason we are hearing about this unacceptable behaviour is because of the new technology.

If Jill McDevitt had received a telephone call and not an e-mail, she would not have been able to expose the unpleasant person and his ridiculous words. Frankly, it is unlikely many people would have believed her version of what was said. It would have been assumed that she was over-reacting. He would have received the benefit of the doubt.

This is how we wake up to the misogyny in our midst. It has always been there, but it is the new communications technology that is shining a light into this recess of our society.

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About the author
Robert Sharp designed the Liberal Conspiracy site. He is Head of Campaigns at English PEN, a blogger, and a founder of digital design company Fifty Nine Productions. For more of this sort of thing, visit Rob's eponymous blog or follow him on Twitter @robertsharp59. All posts here are written in a personal capacity, obviously.
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Reader comments


Well yes. But then existing legislature and technology allows for online abuse/threats, even planned terrorism to be intercepted and brought to task, should the will to do so exist, yet here we are with ‘the great firewall of Britain’ plan again. It’s almost as if the government actually couldn’t give a fuck about those things, but is very much interested in controlling the things we can or can’t see on the Internet.

“This was the most offensive and upsetting email I’ve ever received, second only to a death threat”

I read that you have been with your guy for five years and have never had sex with him without using condoms. What is the point of that? What are you trying to prove? Now that you are MARRIED to him, are you going to allow him to have some condomless / bareback / raw / “naked penis” sex with you? You are not doing anything to help further the cause of sexual health by denying your husband of this perfectly natural activity that almost every other married couple in the world enjoys on a regular basis. If anything, you are discrediting yourself with this silly campaign.

I agree with you that condoms are a fact of life and arguably a necessity for those who are having sexual relations outside of a monogamous relationship, but it is ridiculous to promote them for people who are married or in committed relationships. Hormonal birth control works just fine for pregnancy prevention, and monogamy (with an uninfected partner) is 100% effective in preventing STIs. For a man, using a condom feels almost like wearing a piece of tupperware on his dick, and I do not understand why anyone would bother with them when they don’t have to…especially you and your HUSBAND.
—-

Where is the misogyny women hate? Where is the object offense, as in an attack, spite, and so forth?

Robert

Why is there an expectation that it should be any different?
Its a jungle full of animals!

Sharp:

But the only reason we are hearing about this unacceptable behaviour is because of the new technology.

If Jill McDevitt had received a telephone call and not an e-mail, she would not have been able to expose the unpleasant person and his ridiculous words

…because nobody ever bothered to take their hate mail to the police in the days when people sent letters, or keep the threats left on their answerphones as evidence.

He was an idiot. She kicked his arse… Meh.

Good on her, like, but this is no way like rape or bomb threats !!!

Anyone? Other than the crude language you would expect from a 14 year old on the subject, what is so offensive about it that it makes it the most offensive thing second only to a death threat?

Its an opinion and a question, unwanted opinions can be unpleasant, we have all found our selves on the receiving end of one, thinking, who the hell are you?

The thought of sexual activity’s without a condom may be revolting to the individual but to most people in a long term relationship its normal. Sex is a very private matter, yet this individual makes there sexual activity’s publicly known and someone responded to what was in the public domain..

If someone on the internet says “I do this” someone is bound to ask “why”..

Most women don’t have to put up with things like that at all. You make it sound like we live in some sort of sexist dystopia. Most people’s lives aren’t like that.

@6 Upon reading the whole post the offence was apparently due to the guy in question thinking he had every right to poke his nose into her and her husband’s sex life.

Where does one get the gall- where does one get the AUDACITY to send a perfect stranger an email outlining their thoughts on what that person should do with her vagina?

As she says.

9. Churm Rincewind

@ (4) Redpesto:

“…nobody ever bothered to take their hate mail to the police in the days when people sent letters…”

Eh? How do you know?

Upon reading the whole post the offence was apparently due to the guy in question thinking he had every right to poke his nose into her and her husband’s sex life.

The individual is a sexologist, which is a profession that deals with matters of sex, on this count alone has zero basis to approach a stranger concerning their private sex life. Im with that..however how did the sender know such an intimate detail of her private sex life? And if he knew because she put it in the public domain, as if its up for disccusion..as if she is pushing it as a positive for society, something to be modeled and followed, scrunity and questions are going to follow.

That email was not aggressive in the sense we have been seeing with twitter cases lately, it was very juvenile yes, but the case here is one of being intrusive, how instrusive is a question about your sex life when the details of your sex life end up in that persons possession because you have distributed them.

If a person goes about their business on twitter and they are attacked verbaly for no other reason than their gender, this is totally unprovoked and unacceptable. If a person broadcasts infomation about their lives on a very public platform and they are later asked a question about it, these two things cant be grouped into the same catogory, as the op here is trying to do.

11. Suburban Tory

how did the sender know such an intimate detail of her private sex life?

He reads Cosmopolitan.

Sexologist Jill McDevitt, PhD, teaches women how to give hand jobs on carrots, schools college classes on the female orgasm, and sells lipstick vibrators at her Pennsylvania sex shop.

If you have to take your clothes off infront of the doctors, within you are assured of their professionalism, you know they are going to react in a very different manner to the rest of the population, its their job, its almost as if they can not see you, they see what they are looking for, the medical problem needing to be adressed. Its an attitude that sets proffessionals apart from the general public when dealing with sensative issues.

Sex is a very sensative issue, its disscussion normaly brings up immature responses or akwardness, yet a professional can talk about the issue seriously with no inhibitions, I think the fault here is that it was a man who asked and more to the point did so in a very poor manner.

Its private, yet if a women had asked would it have invoked such disgust that it was percived as the next thing to a death threat? Or would the response in feeling and words just been one of thats out of bounds im afraid.

Churm Rincewind:

@ (4) Redpesto:

“…nobody ever bothered to take their hate mail to the police in the days when people sent letters…”

Eh? How do you know?

I don’t – but I can’t imagine anyone sent a death threat would just dump it with the rest of the post.

I don’t – but I can’t imagine anyone sent a death threat would just dump it with the rest of the post.

Back in the days when you did not need to wonder “does this lunatic know my full nake or where i live” after opening the letter it was kind of assumed that they did!

Chris @7 – it would be facetious and irritating to say ‘check your privilege’ and perhaps my tone implies a dystopia that is not there.

But the point is that the sexism is far worse than we men realise. I applaud and share posts like Jill McDevitt just as I applaud Louise Mensch, Laurie Penny, Stella Creasy and Caroline Criado-Perez (to name four of many) for sharing the abusive tweets they are sent. Because it is only through this evidence – magnified by the new technology – that we men (and I assume you are a man!) are finally understanding that its much worse and more common than we imagined.

@3 MOCO:

That’s just lazy. We’re more than just animals. This website and all of politics is predicated on that assumption. The fact that humans have a primitive, animalistic side is the start of a conversation, not an answer to anything.

But the point is that the sexism is far worse than we men realise.

Is it really though, or is it we simply dont expect it to happen to women and when it does we are shocked because men naturaly, want to protect females and humans (most of them) naturaly want others to feel safe to express them selves in the world.

Those twitter comments were dam vile and totally unacceptable, but ask Sunny how many times he has been called every swear word under the entire sun on twitter, how many times he has been told to f off on the internet in a totaly unprovoked out burst from someone, how many times a person has concocted the most spiteful hateful personalised sentences designed to get to the guy.

Im not a blogger, I cant recall the amount of times its happened to me or imagine the amount of times its taken place for him. If someone tells Sunny to f off, he does not recall it 5 minutes later because that was his cue to totaly disregard the person and not even respect them with a response.

Where as, as we are seeing, a lot of females and no doubt men, take it to heart, and then we have a big response to it. Thats not to say a response is wrong, what im saying is, this stuff is not new, its neither an epedemic sweeping the nation or a problem so small its not worth noting, disrespect and the nerve to express it has been with us forever, towards men and women, know what you are dealing with beyond the words and you may find the words soon lose their power.

Those kind of people thrive off attention..

Robert, thank you for your article – I found it heart warming, sadly I can’t say the same for the comments they make me despair somewhat.

@Ob ‘Where is the misogyny women hate?’
Well aside from the points already made, the idea that ‘it feels horrible for a bloke’ is more important than the myriad of risks imposed on a woman’s health of Hormonal birth control strikes me as somewhat of a problem. If the idea that a man’s sensation is more important than actual HARM being done to a woman doesn’t contain a some misogyny hasn’t occurred to you – perhaps it should.
The idea that its a man’s RIGHT to have free access to his wife body is also problematic to put it incredibly mildly.

@squack ‘Good on her, like, but this is no way like rape or bomb threats !!!’
Yes Good on her, but really meh? The point is that women are meant to endure a wide range of abuse from mild to very extreme and to only support us when we endure the worst verbal abuse implies that it is ok for milder forms of abuse to be directed at us – it really isn’t. Also I guess that many men have no idea what t is like not just to have this kind of abuse thrown at them, but to live in a world where you are treated like you should be able to deal with it, ignore it, not take it personally,and hear rubbish like ‘boys will be boys’ like that makes it all ok and excuses it.
It is that that is just as much of a problem as the abuse itself. The knowledge that you will probably not be supported, that the man who abuses you will get far more benefit of the doubt that you will – this is a horrible thing to live with and makes the abuse harder to deal with.

why is this story important? Because the kind of abuse directed at Jill McDeviitt was probably motivated by the same reason as the abuse directed at so many women who speak up for themselves and other women’s rights – its rarely about the issues raised its about making women shut up. Not just the woman who is speaking out but any woman who hears about the abuse.
It is about silencing us and that is unacceptable.

I applaud Jill McDeviitt for raising this issue.

As I understand it Jill McDeviitt was sent an email which was an extremely intrusive and opinionated one about her sex life.

Jill McDeviitt then decides to publish the email and the author then approaches her parents.

I have received many abusive emails over the years. I have a personal website and I am an openly gay man. It used to be that at my website I had a “contact me” form and when I had this I received the most abuse because people could use that without revealing their own email address. Anyway I changed to simply having a link for emails and this has greatly reduced the number of abuse from the website because the abusive individuals don’t like to reveal their own email address it seems.

The power of abusive messages sent directly to an individual is very great. It is interesting that it was when Jill McDeviitt decided to publish the email from the man that he escalated his activity.

I think that publishing these abusive emails is absolutely the right thing to do. Publish the emails and the email addresses from the people who send them.

This is the best way to combat these individuals. They want the freedom of speech to be abusive, well, okay, but the victims also can have the freedom of speech to show the abuse they have received and to identify the source of the abuse.

16. Robert

‘We’re more than just animals. This website and all of politics is predicated on that assumption. The fact that humans have a primitive, animalistic side is the start of a conversation, not an answer to anything’

Interesting response . No we really are just animals although our heightened consciousness allows us an ability to manipulate both our physical reality and mental reality.

All this chat on the website is a glorious abstraction on our need to eat, breath and reproduce.The sense of justice is probably related to the idea of kinship and is demonstrated in other members of the ape family. Sadly for the ‘right on’ folks here so is sexual division and male dominance based on brute force. I’ll even go as far to suggest there is a monkey called Tony with a bunch of bananas hidden on an island somewhere away from everyone else.

The chat on this post is principally about the etiquette associated with reproductive process and the percieved breaching of social mores. If we were peafowl this would be akin to ‘he stuck his feathers in my face and I am upset’. These social mores are being breached more obviously and in greater quantity just as a consequence of technological innovation. The death threats are almost certainly a male dominance thing.But they underline the principals of life and its basic motivations.

I am as upset about it as you are Robert. What with Rolf an all. I am just waiting for the next expose involving Sooty and H Corbett.

They want the freedom of speech to be abusive, well, okay, but the victims also can have the freedom of speech to show the abuse they have received and to identify the source of the abuse.

That’s about the size of it. If Ralph Kaplan wasn’t willing to stand by his statement, he shouldn’t have made it.

22. Havelook Ellis

On par with the woman sports reporter who, unannounced, went into a changing room at an American Football stadium and then complained that there were men walking about with no clothes on who called her rude names.

‘Why I don’t read comments’ – Jill McDevitt
http://www.philly.com/philly/living/sex_love_dating/The_Sexologist_Why_I_dont_read_comments_.html

23. Dafft-Webing

“Dr. Jill McDevitt is a nationally recognized sexologist, and the only person in the world with a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree in human sexuality, making her the most formally educated person about sex on the planet.”
Also, she has her own trumpet and blows it more often than her partner.

Well aside from the points already made, the idea that ‘it feels horrible for a bloke’ is more important than the myriad of risks imposed on a woman’s health of Hormonal birth control strikes me as somewhat of a problem. If the idea that a man’s sensation is more important than actual HARM being done to a woman doesn’t contain a some misogyny hasn’t occurred to you – perhaps it should.

The idea that its a man’s RIGHT to have free access to his wife body is also problematic to put it incredibly mildly.
—-

Heavy stuff there. Hundreds of millions of couples have sex every week without condoms and I can assure you HARM is not taking place, the males in those relationships do not view their intimate relationships as a “right to a womens body” its a mutual partnership.

Its the norm in society for couples in long term relationships not to use condoms and to call that misogyny and turn it into an issue of a mans RIGHT to have free access to his wife body, even though the vast majority of females do not want him to use one, for reasons of his sensation, their combined intimacy and beyond, is one of the reasons that makes the average person completly unable to relate the the femnist movement.

Some people may have complexes and issues when it comes to sex, and if a person viewed sex as a mans right to have access to their body, and then they were questioned on that, I can understand how their own beliefs systems can produce disgust in response.

25. PottyTraining

@23

And word ‘Marvel’ (‘comic’ is the real wit behind the rant) is stolen from The Bible (where it appears several times and where the Satanists got the ideas to base on Marvel Comics)

http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/search.php?q=marvel&bsec=Z&order=

Matthew 22:22
When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.


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